The Kenyan art world literally exploded in 2022 as artists were keen to come out in full force after doing time under the Covid-19 lockdown.
Of course, there were spaces that quietly kept their doors open during the pandemic. Others held virtual exhibitions. Circle Art even held its annual Art Auction East Africa online. But everyone felt a great relief in 2022 when, for better or worse, most felt the lockdown was done.
The one problem many artists had was finding spaces to show their work. But that was resolved with ingenuity and finesse. Some artists did it by making murals and graffiti art. All over Eastlands estates, one can find walls filled with graffiti that, like gem stones, shone in the midst of rocky terrain.
It was not just in places like Mukuru Lunga Lunga where Shabu Mwangi and his Wajukuu crew built a whole new art centre in 2021-2022. Even at the Organic Farmers Market at the KSPCA in Karen, artists like Michael Musyoka and Yony Waite each took turns creating murals in the open air. Michael also led a team from Brush tu Artists Collective to create an epic mural on a vast wall at Premiere Academy in Parklands.
Ad hoc galleries
But leaving aside public art, which inspired a group like Dream Cona to create murals all over the city centre in 2022, Nairobi has witnessed a fascinating metamorphosis wherein people have turned their homes into ad hoc ‘platforms’ or actual galleries. It isn’t really something new per se. Carol Lees brought One Off Gallery to her Rosslyn home years ago, after she shifted from RaMoMa in 2010.
Since then, we have seen people like Louise Patterson start Tribal Gallery from her home. Veronica Duro Paradinas move Gravitart from its portable position back to her flat in Westlands. Geraldine Robarts built her own gallery right next to her home studio in Karen. And Azza Satti opened up her place in Parklands to become ‘The Apartment’ where all her walls were hung with colorful works from Khartoum in 2022. The phenomenon isn't new. But artists and self-taught gallerists clearly had fun this past year exhibiting works of their choice.
The galleries were busy as well, hanging both group and solo shows in 2022. It could be argued that this was women’s year as it started strong with Circle Art exhibiting a troika of women artists, namely Yony Waite, Tabitha Wa Thuku, and Theresa Musoke. Theirs was followed swiftly with another threesome at the Karen Blixen Museum, namely Esther Mukuhi, Caroline Mbirua, and Nayia Sitonik.
After that, we saw Sebawali Soi showing everywhere from the Movenpick Hotel to Lisa’s Christophersen’s new space, LifeStyle, next to the UN and at Brush tu Open Houses where we also found Bushkimani Moira displaying her magical masks. It was also at Kobo Trust’s Open House that we found Nadia Wamunyu showing her Black bodies while Taabu Munyoki was at work on her Black Hair series.
Dream Cona also held a week-long workshop at the GoDown for young women artists, led by Joy Mboya, Patrick Mukabi, and observed photographically by Nduta Kariuki. Ultimately, the best place to have seen women’s art shine was at the UM Gallery in the Waterfront Mall where nearly 100 women artists were represented, after responding to an animating call from Gemini Vaghela.
The other space where many young Kenyan women artists were represented is in the latest Kenyan Arts Diary 2023 which was revived after a two-year hiatus by Niketa Fazel, Nani Croze, and myself.
Women gallery managers
The other arena where we saw women shine in 2022 was in gallery management. That is where we have always found dynamic women like Carol Lees, Danda Jaroljmek, Joy Mboya, and Rahab Shine inspiring artists to show their best works. Now we have met a whole new group of women in charge at the newly opened Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute. Founded by the acclaimed Kenyan-British painter Michael Armitage, NCAI took off seriously in 2022. Now Don Handah is also there to curate with the women.
But even NCAI has yet to capture all the kinetic energy that we saw in 2022 since artists were exhibiting everywhere from Umoja1 to Nairobi National Museum and Serena Hotel, revealing qualities of color, concept, and creativity that are improving all the time.
Finally, we cannot forget to pay homage to great artists that we lost in 2022, namely Ancent Soi, Edward Njenga, Timothy Brooke, and Alan Donovan. All hold a special place in our hearts and in the history of Kenyan art.